Happy Hazard

France's Player of the Year is set to join a Premier League club this summer – but is enjoying taking his time choosing which one. Andy Brassell reports on the race to sign a budding superstar

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The Independent Online

Nothing had been riding on Lille's final game of the season on Sunday against Nancy. Still, journalists squeezed in at Stade Villeneuve d'Ascq, to hear the definitive final word, with Eden Hazard expected to detail which Premier League club he would be joining.

"I haven't made my choice yet," he shrugged. It was a rare sign of wavering from this most confident of young men. While Hazard has teased possible suitors in recent months, he has always exuded a sense of assurance.

His curtain call against Nancy showed exactly why England's finest are jockeying for position in the race to sign him. Hazard fired a first-half hat-trick, taking him up to 20 league goals for the season, one short of the French top division's top scorers, Montpellier's Olivier Giroud and Nenê of Paris Saint-Germain. The Lille No 10 was alone at the summit of the assist table, with 15.

This season Hazard has demonstrated what the fuss is about and his projected €40m (£32.3m) move would make him the most lucrative ever player sale from Ligue 1.

Hazard's rise is down to a number of factors: the confidence gleaned from Lille's league and cup Double last year; the move from wide left to a more central position and even the boost of a kindred spirit arriving in the on-loan Joe Cole. The admiration is certainly mutual. "I don't want to put pressure on him," Cole told me just before Christmas. "But he can become one of the best in the world."

At just 21, Hazard has manipulated the prospect of his impending transfer like a seasoned pro. During the first four months of 2012, he's given all the Premier League's leading lights encouragement. As a guest on the panel of the television programme Canal Football Club in January, he gave a controlled performance under some direct questioning.

Just before the closure of the transfer window, Hazard firmly declared it was absolutely impossible that he would leave before summer, but that he had decided to go to England at the end of the campaign. Neglecting to name a preferred club, he praised the qualities of all the Premier League's leading lights in turn.

"I bet it's Chelsea," Canal Plus's leading pundit, Christophe Dugarry, suggested towards the end of the segment. "You're free to bet as you want," Hazard smirked back.

Yet if he is lauded in France, the Belgium national side has yet to see his best. Hazard has scored just once in 26 matches for his country.

Although he identifies himself as an Anderlecht fan, there is a sense that there is a certain disconnect between Hazard and his country: much as with Lionel Messi, it seems an inevitable consequence of the majority of his football education unfolding abroad.

Hazard's talent has certainly infuriated opponents. Nancy defender André Luiz complained after a game last January, "he [Hazard] was taking the piss out of us, waiting for an opponent after having dribbled past him so he could dribble past him again.

But he is no shallow egotist. "Is this my best season?" he pondered last week. "Stats-wise, yes. But last season, there was the Double, and this, nothing." His voice trailed away, losing interest.

Hazard wants to shine individually, and be well paid while doing it, but he also wants to win things – which is exactly why Chelsea are back in the running following their Champions League triumph.

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